I’m curious about outside cakes for celebrations—can I charge a plate fee? We have an upscale but casual restaurant and charge a $1 per guest fee, which gets nice plates, serving utensils, server cutting it, etc.
– Monte Sheffield, Owner, Palmers Restaurant, San Marcos, Texas
This question has come up a few times over the years. I think the reason it recurs is that guests hate to pay a fee to bring their own cake, which, of course, they already paid for or took the trouble to bake and decorate. I totally understand that you are committing equipment, potential breakage, labor, and energy as well as the lost revenue opportunity by not selling desserts.
Usually guests are most frustrated by the fee if it is not clearly explained in advance and just shows up on the bill. That frustration points to differing expectations that is at the heart of so many issues in this column. If you explain the plate fee upfront when you sell the event, it’s generally taken better.
My advice, though, if you know the fee annoys guests, is to fold it in elsewhere rather than calling attention to it on the bill. Given it’s such a modest fee, can you fold it into your room rental (if applicable), coffee service, bar tab, or elsewhere so the guest is paying for food, beverage and service only rather than perceiving you as nickel and diming them? That might be a more successful strategy.
Some great consumer education on the topic here.